Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Bangor Daily News in September 1999.
PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia defended his Roman Catholic faith against its doubters Friday, but refused to be drawn into the state debate on late-term abortions.
Scalia, the guest of honor at a Red Mass ceremony Friday at St. Patrick’s Church and keynote speaker at a luncheon afterward, spoke of the need to promote religious beliefs. He said it has become commonplace for intellectuals to dismiss true believers in religion as “fools” and asked true believers to become “fools for Christ’s sake.”
The Red Mass is an annual tradition which dates back centuries and is intended as an official opening of the judicial year. More than 300 judges, lawyers, government officials and people of all faiths attended the Mass to invoke God’s blessing and guidance in the administration of justice.
Scalia was not an active participant in the Mass but sat in the front row through the ceremony. Afterward, during his luncheon speech at Verrillo’s Restaurant, the justice defended his Catholic faith against intellectuals who doubt the resurrection of Jesus and the miracles recounted in the Bible.
In questioning after his speech, Scalia declined to comment on the state’s ballot question on a ban on late-term abortions coming before voters in November, and he angrily denied that his appearance blurred the line between church and state.
The Roman Catholic Diocese, which sponsored Scalia’s appearance, insisted that his visit wasn’t part of its aggressive support of the state referendum to ban late-term abortions, which will be decided in November. Marc Mutty, spokesman for the diocese, said Scalia was invited a year ago, before the abortion question had been placed on the state ballot.
“This appearance has no connection with the referendum. It is totally unrelated,” Mutty said. Scalia was invited by old friend Robert C. Robinson, a Portland attorney who represents the diocese.
Scalia, an outspoken foe of abortion rights on the court, has nine children, one of whom is a priest. He is considered the most fiery and colorful justice on the nine-member court. In 1992, Scalia opposed the majority court opinion which upheld abortion rights in a Pennsylvania case.
Without explanation, Scalia banned television cameras and radio microphones from his afternoon luncheon speech, though they were allowed at the Mass. Scalia also criticized a photographer who took his picture during the Mass.
The luncheon speech made no mention of abortion, but concentrated on doubters of the faith.
“It is my hope that I have imparted, to those already wise in Christ, the courage to have their wisdom regarded as stupidity. Are we thought to be fools? No doubt. But as St. Paul wrote in Corinthians, we are fools for Christ’s sake. Are we thought to be easily led and childish? Didn’t Christ constantly describe us as his sheep and say we would not get to heaven unless we became like little children?” he asked the luncheon gathering.
Scalia urged true believers to demonstrate “the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world for these seeming failings of ours. We lawyers and intellectuals who do not like to be regarded as unsophisticated can have no greater model than the patron saint of lawyers, the urbane, foolish, childish St. Thomas More. St. Thomas, pray for us.”
St. Thomas More was executed in London in 1535 when he refused to dissolve the marriage of Henry VIII. To many, he died for “a silly reason,” Scalia said.
Defending a faith with a rational basis should be praised, not condemned, he said. “A faith that has no rational basis is a false faith. That is why I am not a Branch Davidian. It is not irrational, however, to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses about what Jesus taught them or later miracles. What is irrational, it seems to me, is to reject, with no investigation, the possibility of miracles in general and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in particular.”
During the morning Mass, Bishop Joseph J. Gerry warned the attorneys present against excessive reliance on previous court decisions, instead of truth.
“Custom without truth can be error in its old age. The past is not always a guide to the present. The law must seek to act on truth, not the whim of public opinion,” the bishop said.